A first look at Paginton’s work ethereally evokes the 1920s self-reflective tone of queer feminist photographer Claude Cahun.
The use of masks is a particular cause for that. But it is not only their use but their purpose that evokes Cahun’s pioneering relationship with identity and gender.
Like Cahun, Paginton’s use of masks subverts the artists’ contemporary standards of beauty. Where Cahun challenged extreme femininity in 1920s Europe, Paginton subverts – whether intentionally or not – modern society’s obsession with perfection, symmetry and exaggerated – yet often uncomfortably forced – femininity.
This becomes prevalent in the portfolio of Athena Paginton, who employs illustrative and activist techniques to paint on her subjects’ face and body – switching a swab of mascara for more colourful displays of art. In her work, you’ll see an array of creative 2D ideas brought to life on the arches and curves of the human canvas; like a colourful rainbow, a pattern comprising black and red block prints, a bold red face with turquoise crosses, stars and zigzags, or the recreation of a character on the back of the neck.
Paginton’s artistic and organic side has led to a stellar portfolio. she’s worked with the likes of adidas, Alexander McQueen, Arise Arise, Balenciaga, Burberry, Converse, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana among many more. She’s also had her pieces features in the pages of 032C, 10 Magazine, AnOther, Cero, Dazed & Confused, Garage, i-D plus others.
Her niche? Activism, which sits as the centre point of inspiration for most of her projects. This could be anything from mental health, animal rights, LGBTQIA+ rights or climate change. Once the topic is decided, she’ll start the painting and illustration phase, applying her paints to paper, canvas, friends and whatever else she can get her hands on. This part tends to be free-slowing and intuitive, so the end point is always going to end up as a little surprise.
In a recent project, Athena worked on a beauty series in collaboration with Samaritans in order to raise awareness of mental health in males. Again the subversion of modern standards is stunning. Paginton uses multicoloured, surrealist-like images to literally illustrate the pain within male mentalities. This subverts the usual dark-toned, tough and streetwear focus we see on the modern man in the media.
Athena’s practice proves that beauty is more than surface deep.